What Are the Health Issues Related to HPV and How Long Does HPV Infection Last?

Paul A. Offit, MD, discusses the negative effects of HPV and explains how long the disease can last.


What are the health issues related to HPV and how long does HPV infection last?

Paul Offit: Hi, my name's Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

A question that parents and people and adolescents commonly have is, “What is HPV?” So let's take a step back. HPV stands for human papillomavirus — it is the most common sexually transmitted virus of man. It's typical that most women or men by the time they’re 35 or 40 years of age will have been infected with HPV — really about 80 percent. So you think about the number of people in this world — that's hundreds and hundreds of thousands of infections.

So what does HPV do? It really does one of three things. Either one you're infected with HPV and in a matter of months, usually several months, you rid yourself of the virus and never knew you had it, but you're still contagious during that period of time. The second thing that HPV does, most commonly when there’s clinical symptoms, is it causes anal and genital warts. These are disfiguring, and they're debilitating, and they can certainly be emotionally very destructive.

The third thing and obviously the most damaging thing that human papillomavirus, or HPV, can do is it can take these cells, whether it's cells of the cervix or cells of the anal and genital area or cells of the oropharyngeal, or throat area, it can take those cells and transform them to become cancerous.

Now, from the time when you're first infected to the time that those cells become cancerous can be 15, 20, 25 years. So it takes a long time to do that, but those are the three ways in which HPV manifests itself.

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